Bellingcat International Group employees investigate Russian allegations War crimes in Ukraine Using publicly available online materials – including photos and videos posted on social media.
“We are discovering the enormity of war for the first time in our lives in a way that is close to us and in a way we can see in social media, Instagram and TikTok videos,” said Christo Grosev, CEO of Bellingcat. “And the scale of war crimes that we think we are discovering in our daily work is enormous.”
There is more open source information from the war in Ukraine than any other previous war. In previous conflicts, such as the civil war in Syria, still images were more common and available than videos. New social media platforms, notably TikTok, have changed that. Grozev estimates that about 70% of the evidence that Bellingcat collects about the war in Ukraine now comes from TikTok content.
According to Bellingcat founder Elliot Higgins, information from the video-sharing platform began piling up prior to the Russian invasion in February, when civilians posted TikTok videos of tanks running down Russian streets. Higgins said these videos not only showed the crowds before the invasion, but also identified the specific units and equipment the Russian military planned to use. In cases where Bellingcat suspects that the Russians have deployed cluster munitions in Ukraine from rocket launchers launched from within Russia, Bellingcat says they can identify the units most likely responsible.
“In some cases, it is actually possible to see these caravans during their entire journey from their base all the way to the border,” Higgins said. “So all of these bits of information give us additional evidence that we can use for future accountability purposes.”
To preserve evidence of possible war crimes, the US House of Representatives Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees released on Thursday Send messages to social media companies To get them to archive content on their platforms. The chairs of the two committees wrote to the executives of Meta, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok asking them to keep the content, including metadata, that could be used in the international court to prove war crimes and human rights abuses in Ukraine.
Bellingcat has also used open source guides for Dispel Russia’s claim Possible war crimes in the Kiev suburb of Bucha were committed after Ukrainian forces returned to the town. In one example, researchers in Bellingcat verified an aerial video that was reportedly filmed by the Ukrainian military on March 3, when Bucha was detained by Russian forces. The video shows a woman riding a bicycle on a street where there is a Russian armored vehicle. As the woman turned the corner, the Russian chariot shot the woman.
Another aerial video captured by Ukrainian forces in late March and verified by Bellingcat shows a body lying on the road at the site where the woman was shot. The Ukrainian army entered Busha at the beginning of April.
The Kremlin’s response to the Bellingcat investigations into the Ukraine war. In a statement issued earlier this month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “In general, Bellingcat’s information should be viewed through special filters: sometimes with humor, sometimes as a deliberate lie and distortion of reality.”
Russian Prosecutor General mid-March Blocking the Bellingcat websiteand prevented those in Russia from accessing the group’s investigations, including research into the Russian assassination program. After all the evidence his team found while looking into the atrocities allegedly committed by Russia, Higgins knows that Bellingcat’s work invites the possibility of danger.
“It has risks,” Higgins said. “But then standing up for freedom, human rights and democracy involves risk. When we stop taking risks and let fear take hold, democracy dies.”
The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer. Edited by Will Croxton.